MU Courtside “Millennium Bracket” First Four

As promised earlier this week, welcome to our Marquette Courtside “Millennium Bracket.” This is where we try to kill some sportless, depressing, social-distancing time by having a laugh about what would happen if the MU teams of the 2000s had a time-machine tournament, with help from WhatIfSports.

Here’s the bracket. It’s First Four time. Remember, each matchup will be a best-of-three simulation on WhatIfSports at what we’re calling a “neutral” Bradley Center. I’ll reference each team’s coach & top scorer on the bracket and in scores to help more easily remember which year’s team was which.

First Four Matchup #1

#16 2014 Marquette (Buzz Williams, 17-15, 9-9/6th of 10 BIG EAST, Davante Gardner 14.9 ppg) vs. #17 2016 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 20-13, 8-10/7th of 10 BIG EAST, Henry Ellenson 17.0 ppg)

About 2014: Marquette fans remember Buzz Williams’ swan song for his team running out of steam, making it appear Williams was already looking elsewhere. It was MU’s only year under Buzz in which it failed to make the NCAA tournament. Marquette lost five of its last seven and Williams left for Virginia Tech less than a week after the season. No. 1 song: Happy, Pharrell Williams.

About 2016: The Henry Ellenson season. The touted Rice Lake, Wis. recruit was the first huge get for Steve Wojciechowski. However, while he won BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, he didn’t quite live up to the massive hype, either for MU or as the 18th pick in the draft for the Detroit Pistons. An up-and-down year meant no berth in the NCAA or NIT bracket. No. 1 song: Work, Rhianna ft. Drake.

Overlap: Despite just two years passing, only one player was left from 2014 in 2016 — JaJuan Johnson.

Pre-Matchup: Seeing how well it worked for that season’s Legends Classic, Wojciechowski takes away his team’s practice gear while it prepares for the 2014 team. Texas-native Williams sees the 2016 team practicing in white, sleeveless T-shirts, then says, “What? That’s how I dress every day in summer.”

Game #1: The big-man matchup has Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule taking on Henry Ellenson, Luke Fischer and noted folk hero Matt Heldt. Ellenson comes to play, hitting 6-of-11 shots and two of the three threes he takes. In fact, the 2016 team goes 8-for-14 from outside. However, it also can’t stop Gardner, who comes off the bench to lead all scorers with 20 points. Wojciechowski gets his team within three after halftime, but Williams’ group goes on an 8-0 run to answer. The 2014 team coasts. 2014 Williams/Gardner 87, 2016 Wojciechowski/Ellenson 70.

Game #2: Neither Henry, nor teammate brother Wally Ellenson, stopped playing basketball after college, and, apparently, neither wants to stop playing in this bracket, either. A bro-to-bro bucket caps a 19-6 first-half run for the 2016ers. Playing from behind doesn’t suit Williams’ team well, much the way it didn’t in the latter part of 2014. They go just 4-for-18 from three and Williams barely avoids a technical when he tears off his plaid suit jacket, sending a pocket square flying, to protest a foul producing Traci Carter’s final two trips to the line out of an almost-inexplicable eight. We’ll have a third game. 2016 Wojciechowski/Ellenson 86, 2014 Williams/Gardner 74.

Game 3: The deciding contest turns out to be the best. Johnson 2016, looking to inspire his younger 2014 self, leads all scorers for Wojo with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting as the 16ers cling to a 66-65 lead with five minutes left. But that’s when the 2014 squad shows the moxie that characterized Williams’ teams, going on a 14-4 run to take a lead it doesn’t give back. Jake Thomas, whose only competition for streakiest shooter in the bracket might be Andrew Rowsey, gets hot, hitting 6-of-8 threes to lead all scorers with 21 points. Despite the 2016 team going 8-for-13 from outside, they get outrebounded 39-22, with Wilson pulling down 10 while Henry Ellenson and Fischer combine for just seven. 2014 Williams/Gardner 83, 2016 Wojciechowski/Ellenson 79. (Box scores & game play-by-plays here)

Post-Matchup: Thomas, of all guys, gets named series MVP by local media after his clutch shooting in Game 3. A student reporter suggests Henry Ellenson on name recognition alone; I hold back an incredulous sneer as I politely note his point total was equaled or surpassed by teammate Johnson each game. Meanwhile, Johnson ’14 on Johnson ‘16: “I don’t know why Buzz isn’t coaching the team in two years, but I like how that new coach used future me. Also, it’s weird talking about a future me.”

First Four Matchup #2

#15 2000 Marquette (Tom Crean, 15-14, 8-8/4th of 6 Conference USA American, Brian Wardle 16.6 ppg) vs. #18 2015 Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski, 13-19, 4-14/9th of 10 BIG EAST, Matt Carlino 15 ppg)

About 2000: Expectations weren’t high for Tom Crean’s first season after taking over for the rollercoaster ride of Mike Deane. A first-round NIT exit at Xavier certainly wasn’t memorable. However, the team had a stretch of success in mid-January, beating No. 21 DePaul (yes, you read that correctly) and No. 25 Louisville in consecutive games. No. 1 song: Say My Name, Destiny’s Child.

About 2015: Wojciechowski arrives at Marquette to take over for the departed Williams. His cupboard of players is nearly bare and gets even more sparse when eventual NBA pro Deonte Burton transfers after eight games played. Managers have to fill gaps on the playing roster as the team remains competitive but struggles. No. 1 song: Uptown Funk!, Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

Pre-Matchup: Crean scouts practice film from the 2015 team that shows how much better the Al McGuire Center is than his team’s workout facility, the ancient Marquette Gym. “Why do I ever leave this place?” he asks 2015 reporters before the first game. Todd Rosiak rolls his eyes and doesn’t answer.

Game #1: There’s a reason these teams are in the First Four. A game-ending 14-3 run boosts the 2015ers over the 2000ers, though the offensive rebounds and missed opportunities Crean’s crew gets in the process result in timeouts where both first-year coaches lividly scream at their players. The 2000 team holds a 65-60 lead with a little under five minutes left before both teams fail to score for the next two minutes. Volume shooter Matt Carlino finally kickstarts the 2015 offense with a three at the 2:54 mark, scoring eight of the first 10 points in the run to finish with a game-high 24. Brian Wardle misses three different iffy shots in the final 62 seconds. The first MU team of the new millennium ends up staring down an elimination game. 2015 Wojciechowski/Carlino 74, 2000 Crean/Wardle 68.

What happens in Game 2? Find out in a new blog next week.

COURTSIDE SPLINTERS

A REALIZATION: This whole concept of a fantasy world of old Marquette teams playing each other is a little Ready Player One-like, given the current real-world lockdown we’re going through. I didn’t think of that when I posited the idea. But hey, again, we gotta do something to pass the time.

OPTIMISM: It’s not John Cliff but Jimmy Cliff with a good song to play when we can finally gather together for real sports again. Enjoy a relaxing tune and do what you can to stay safe & healthy for now.

Photo: Getty Images

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